Granted freshman senators are not like children: Seen but seldom heard.
Still, Texas Republican Ted Cruz has made a name -- notorious, some would say -- in an institution where newcomers usually are silent for many months before plunging into partisan warfare.
Not Senator Cruz, who has not been reticent in the Republican fight to defeat Chuck Hagel’s nomination as secretary of defense. Nor has Cruz -- who has been on the job for barely six weeks -- been reticent about much else.
Cruz has wasted no time in becoming the Dr. No of the Senate, voting against virtually everything considered by that august body. He was one of three senators to vote against John Kerry’s confirmation as secretary of state, among the 22 who voted against the Violence Against Women Act, among the 34 who voted against raising the debt ceiling, and among the 36 who voted against a relief package for the victims of Hurricane Sandy.
Senator Cruz does not like much, apparently. And apparently, not many of his colleagues much like him. In a body known for its collegiality, more often apparent than real, he has taken his confrontational tea party roots to new heights -- or depths, if you will.
He even earned the enmity of Texas’s other senator, John Cornyn, who has a reputation as a reliable conservative but who did not appreciate his junior colleague’s refusal to support him for party whip. Another GOP colleague described Cruz as Jim DeMint without the charm, a reference to the notably charmless former senator from South Carolina who now heads the Heritage Foundation.
It’s Cruz’s treatment of Chuck Hagel that has led many of his colleagues to view him with distaste. He has accused the former senator from Nebraska of possible foreign corruption. “We do not know, for example,” Cruz insinuated, “if he received compensation for giving paid speeches at extreme or radical groups. It is at a minimum relevant to know if that $200,000 that he deposited in his bank account came directly from Saudi Arabia, came directly from North Korea.”
Cruz made this startling allegation because Hagel has refused to provide financial details that are not required by law, inferring from his refusal that “there was something in there that they did not want to make public.”
At another point, the junior senator from Texas intimated that Hagel would be cozy with Iran because that country’s Islamic regime supports his confirmation.
Cruz’s outrageous allegations raise the specter of McCarthyism. “It was really reminiscent of a different time and place,” California Senator Barbara Boxer noted, “when you said, ‘I have here in my pocket a speech you made on such and such a date,’ and, of course, nothing was in the pocket. It was reminiscent of some bad times.”
The most ardent of tea party supporters may like Cruz’s combative style, but as Frank Bruni notes in The New York Times the new senator from Texas is symptomatic of what threatens to make the Republican Party a permanent minority.
Superficially, Ted Cruz looks like he should be the face of modern Republicanism: Young, Latino, smart (he went to Princeton), and from a modest background. His genealogy ignores the less attractive parts of his political persona: His grandstanding, his uncompromising social conservatism, and his evident meanness.
It’s what various tea party senators exhibit in differing degrees, from Kentucky’s Rand Paul, to Florida’s Marco Rubio, to Utah’s Mike Lee. Some, like Rubio, put a kinder face on their extremism, but it’s still extremism, and it’s not likely to play to a wider audience.
What Cruz and his colleagues have yet to learn is that to have a chance to win elections nationally the Republican Party can’t be opposed to everything President Obama and Democrats favor. Republicans have to be for something too, not to mention being inclusive and generous.
As long as Ted Cruz has a big mouth that spews vitriol, he will get publicity. But not much else, and he’ll be a drag on the Republican Party,